The End of the Affair

by Graham Greene

Other authorsMichael Gorra (Introduction)
Paperback, 2004

Call number




Penguin Classics (2004), Edition: Reprint, 192 pages


Maurice Bendrix, a writer in Clapham during the Blitz, develops an acquaintance with Sarah Miles, the bored, beautiful wife of a dull civil servant named Henry. Maurice claims it's to divine a character for his novel-in-progress. That's the first deception. What he really wants is Sarah, and what Sarah needs is a man with passion. So begins a series of reckless trysts doomed by Maurice's increasing romantic demands and Sarah's tortured sense of guilt. Then, after Maurice miraculously survives a bombing, Sarah ends the affair-quickly, absolutely, and without explanation. It's only when Maurice crosses paths with Sarah's husband that he discovers the fallout of their duplicity-and it's more unexpected than Maurice, Henry, or Sarah herself could have imagined.… (more)

Media reviews

In "The End of the Affair" the splendidly stupid private detective, Alfred Parkis, and his apprentice son, and the maudlin grifter who is the heroine's mother, equal the best of the seedy supernumeraries of his other novels. It is savage and sad, vulgar and ideal, coarse and refined, and a rather
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accurate image of an era of cunning and glory, of cowardice and heroism, of belief and unbelief.
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Great romantic novels are about pain and hate, and among the greatest is Graham Greene's searing The End of the Affair. It is one of the most forensic and honest analyses of love you will ever read.

User reviews

LibraryThing member atimco
Has there ever been a book that compelled you somehow to read it even though it's very different from what you usually enjoy? I was browsing a library booksale when I came across Graham Greene's The End of the Affair. The back cover told me that it was about adultery, a detailed account of the
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emotional and spiritual turmoil of a passionate affair. I put it back on the table, convinced it was one of those novels, a depressing foray into somebody's predictably boring angst. Cue eyeroll.

A couple minutes later, I was back looking at it again, and after flipping through a few pages I decided to give it a try. Something about the writing caught me. And now that I've read it, I think I know why. The writing is excellent, lithe and strong, clothing a complicated, perceptive little story. And some of the ideas explored here are going to occupy my mind for some time.

Maurice Bendrix is our narrator, a professional writer who is just teetering on the edge of popularity. He meets Sarah at a party and pursues her not for an affair, but for information for his next book on the daily life of her civil servant husband. Before long, Bendrix and Sarah are embroiled in a passionate affair that contains the seeds of its own destruction. Bendrix is jealous and insecure and apparently his character was loosely based on Greene himself. This is all happening during World War II, and the Blitz plays a pivotal role in the events of the story.

All the characters are believable and carefully written. Sarah seems like just the kind of person I would dislike, a woman whose beauty and easy ways cause her to indulge in a string of affairs. She needs men in a way that is rather pathetic. But somehow I can't dislike her. Especially when we get to her diary, it's impossible not to feel empathy with her. She is honest about what is happening, and brave... and we start to see that all of her adulteries are really just symptoms of a deeper adultery, the adultery committed against God.

Because yes, God is very much a character in this novel. I wasn't expecting that. In the end this novel is about a spiritual adultery as well as a physical. In the course of the book Sarah meets and befriends a proselytizing atheist who has dedicated his life to disproving God. His very earnestness against Christianity, all his arguments and proofs, convince her of God's reality:

He hated a fable, he fought against a fable, he took a fable seriously. I couldn't hate Hansel and Gretel, I couldn't hate their sugar house as he hated the legend of heaven. When I was a child I could hate the wicked queen in Snow White, but Richard didn't hate his fairy-tale Devil. The Devil didn't exist and God didn't exist, but all his hatred was for the good fairy-tale, not the wicked one... Oh God, if I could really hate you, what would that mean? (112)

Evelyn Waugh praised this novel and it's easy to see how Brideshead Revisited influenced it. In both novels, God (dressed in Catholicism) is the ultimate reason that the affair cannot last. He is the lover that both women cannot continue denying forever, the rival that Charles and Bendrix fear the most. Both men come to a kind of faith in the end, but Charles' is positive while Bendrix's is angry. Bendrix comes to believe in God, but only so that he can hate Him. We can't hate someone we don't believe in, a "vapour." The novel ends with Bendrix saying,

... I found the one prayer that seemed to serve the winter mood: O God, You've done enough, You've robbed me of enough, I'm too tired and old to learn to love, leave me alone forever.

Whether or not this is the way it will stay is anyone's guess.

This book took me by surprise. I was expecting rants about human jealousy and possession and detailed descriptions of sex. There was some of that, sure (handled tastefully for the most part). But there was a lot more. Ultimately this book is both a fist shaken at God and a palm upturned in prayer — and sometimes both at the same time.

Complex, thought provoking, angry, sad, and in some ways very beautiful. I will certainly revisit this book.
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LibraryThing member Cariola
This was my initial plunge into Graham Greene, and I have to say that I'm left somewhat unsatisfied. The writing itself is fine enough, and the bitter, cynical, obsessive cast-off lover, Bendrix, well drawn. But I found much of the story forced, unbelievable, as if the concept Greene wanted to get
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across overwhelmed the plot: lust begets love begets jealousy begets hatred begets faith.

Much of the novel falls under the "if there's a God" speculation. Sarah prays for God, if there is one, top spare Bendrix from a bombing and promises to give up her lover if God grants her wish. Bendrix wonders, if there's a God, why does he take Sarah away, and later, he wants to believe that there is a God so that he can hate him for taking Sarah away.

Sarah seemed a cypher throughout, both to Bendrix and to the reader. I suppose Greene wanted us to be surprised along with Bendrix at what he later learns about her, but she seemed a rather vapid character to have inspired such raging emotions. The friendship that develops between Bendrix and Henry is certainly an odd one, but Henry, being the most honest (and perhaps simple) character in the novel, is also the most easily understood and most empathetic.

I listened to the book on audio, finely read by Colin Firth. Overall, however, I was underwhelmed by The End of the Affair. I'll probably give Greene another try, but not for awhile. He seems to be one of those writers whose work is firmly rooted in an era--not one in which I have a particular interest.
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LibraryThing member atheist_goat
"This is not a book about love; this is a book about hate" is repeated about 800 times throughout this by its narrator. Yes, it is. In that I hated it.
LibraryThing member bookworm12
Author Maurice Bendrix narrates the story of his affair with a married woman named Sarah. It's a story of jealousy and hate, mixed with passion and heartbreak. Sarah mysteriously ends the affair one day during a blitz on London. Maurice is convinced that she has found a new lover. Her husband Henry
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is also worried about her and not knowing of their affair, he recruits Maurice to help him figure out what's wrong with his wife.

This was the first Graham Greene book I've ever read. There something delicious about the way he writes. He finds ways to express common feelings in extraordinary ways. He also turned emotions that could make you hate a character, like jealousy or piety, into something relatable. I'm excited to pick up another book by him.

In the end the story is really a question of faith. The main characters are forced to face the belief or lack of belief in God. I heard one person describe this book as "Henry, his wife, her lover and God," and that's exactly it. It's about those four characters and how they each relate to each other.

"If we had not been taught how to interpret the story of the Passion, would we have been able to say from their actions alone whether it was the jealous Judas or the cowardly Peter who loved Christ?"

"Sometimes I see myself reflected too closely in other men for comfort, and then I have an enormous wish to believe in the saints, in heroic virtue."
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LibraryThing member AlisonY
The End of the Affair, whilst a short read, is a thick soup of a novel, intense with passionate love, simmering jealousy and religious fervour. Set in war-torn London towards the end of WWII, a chance encounter with the husband of his ex-lover two years after the end of their affair reignites the
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narrator's brooding over his loss, and as his jealousy grows so too does his need to inflict pain as a means of healing his own wounds.

There's a melancholy intensity to this book that reminded me in some ways of Anita Brookner's style of writing, which is rarely joyful yet somehow sucks you willingly into its vortex of despair.

In real life Graham Greene was a vociferous atheist before eventually arguing himself full circle into converting to Catholicism. This tug-of-war between belief and non-belief and the effect of each on how one leads one's life is developed as a key theme within this novel, and although it got lost in itself in a few passages it felt original and an interesting concept within the context of the novel.

4 stars - heady and intense, but those who like their fiction with a liberal sprinkle of joyfulness it may be too bleak.
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LibraryThing member Banoo
Bendrix loves Sarah. Bendrix hates Sarah. Sarah loves Bendrix. Sarah is married but doesn't love Henry. Sarah thinks she believes in God. Sarah loves God. Sarah Hates God. Sarah loves God. Bendrix doesn't believe in God. But Bendrix hates God. Bendrix Hates Henry. Bendrix thinks maybe there is a
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God. Bendrix hates himself. Bendrix hates Smythe. Bendrix loves Sarah...

That is the story in a nutshell. I found this book tedious and it started trying my patience. I didn't like any of the characters in the book. They were all stupid and pathetic except for Sylvia Black but she only made a cameo appearance for a couple of pages. Brian loved those few pages.

Brian loved Sylvia Black. Brian hated Bendrix. Brian hated Sarah. Brian hated Henry. Brian hated Smythe. Brian hated Parkis. Brian liked Parkis.

Greene is a masterful writer. The craft is all there nice and shiny, word after word. The question, 'Is there a God?', was the common thread throughout the book as was the thin line separating love from hate. This book just didn't connect much with me. Brian likes Greene. Brian didn't like The End of the Affair.
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LibraryThing member christinelstanley
Oh wow! This book is special; I read it in one day, ignoring everything else around me until the end. The pain and obsession conveyed powerfully and beautifully. I’ like Graham Green novels, but this was exceptional, in a class of it’s own. SIX stars
LibraryThing member omame
My first Graham Greene- I have found a new author to fall in love with.
Staggering technique with an intuitive sensibility. Its beautiful melancholy lingers long after i finished the book.
LibraryThing member baswood
Published in 1951 Graham Greene's The end of the Affair is a book that evokes that epoch in a London suburb, just at the end of the war. Greene talks about the common which is in fact Clapham common a place I used to know well and perhaps its main theme is an adulterous affair a situation I also
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know well and so I felt right at home with this book. The quality of the writing astounded me as soon as I started reading, but perhaps that was because of all the 1951 science fiction books I have been reading recently. The major themes of adultery and catholic faith, which caused something of a scandal at the time of publication, may not appear so relevant in the 21st century, but the thoughts and feeling of the characters involved remain as vivid as when the book first hit the streets.

Having said that the quality of the writing, characterisation and setting are superb, there are many other things that make this novel, worth stepping back to appreciate. Greene writes this novel in the first person. Bendrix (Greene?) is a novelist living from his royalties and advances from his publishing company. Bendrix has an affair with Sarah who is married to Henry a high flying civil servant, Greene in real life had an affair with Lady Catherine Walston who refused to leave her husband because of her catholic faith and Greene deliberately merges himself with his central character to the effect that it is not clear at times who is speaking. It is like he is taking authorial intervention to another level, mixing some stream of conscious techniques, with flashbacks, but never losing sight of the story; for example this could be Greene or Bendrix talking:

"When young one builds up habits of work that one believes will last a lifetime and withstand any catastrophe. Over twenty years I have probably averaged five hundred words a day for five days a week. I can produce a novel in a year, and that allows time for revision and the correction of the typescript. I have always been very methodical and when my quota of work is done, I break off even in the middle of a scene."

At other times Bendrix confesses that he is having trouble with bringing one of his characters to life in his latest novel and one immediately thinks of Richard Smythe in this novel; an atheist Hyde Park Corner speaker who Sarah visits from time to time, or perhaps the catholic priest who always has the right answer to questions of faith.

Using the first person technique enables Greene to pour into his writing all the needs, the worries, the ego, questions of identity, and lust of a man who falls in love and hates himself and his lover for the situation in which he finds himself. Bendrix is all too human, his actions at times are not those of a considerate human being, but he knows this and refuses to stop himself; because he is in love; Bendrix says to Richard Smythe; lovers aren't reasonable are they:

‘Can you explain away love too?’ I asked. ‘Oh yes,’ he said. ‘The desire to possess in some, like avarice: in others the desire to surrender, to lose the sense of responsibility, the wish to be admired. Sometimes just the wish to be able to talk, to unburden yourself to someone who won’t be bored. The desire to find again a father or a mother. And of course under it all the biological motive.’

Bendrix has a love/hate relationship with Henry the husband of Sarah, he is intensely jealous of Henry's fortune in being able to share his life with Sarah, although he knows that their relationship is now platonic. Of course writing in the first person does not give Green insights into Sarahs real thoughts and feelings until later on in the novel when he gets sight of her personal diary.

At this stage in Greene's life and work, his flirtation with catholicism was almost all consuming and so when writing in the first person in a semi-autobiographical style in this novel, there is no surprise when a catholic priest enters the story. His words and advice get in the way of Bendrix needs, he becomes a frustration and Bendrix cannot understand his faith and influence on Sarah. It is a dichotomy that looms large at the end of the novel as it does in many of Greene's books and makes this novel personal to the author. There is also something supernatural that hovers over this story, taking it out of the realism that serves for much of the book. It is this supernatural element that did not quite ring true for me and somehow dated the novel, in not a good way.

It is a book that I could not put down and when this happens I find that I probably read a little too quickly. However having read many of Greene's novels I am hoping I did not miss too much. 4.5 stars.
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LibraryThing member Clurb
One of my favourite Greene's and one that I could happily reread for ever. Makes me feel warm and sentimental.
LibraryThing member dom20
First book by Greene that I have read - I live near where most of the story is set - so it had added interest. I read the book on holiday and it was a wonderfully written insight into the human spirit, but also a moving story, where you really become engaged with the story and its characters. I
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will certainly be reading more of Greene
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LibraryThing member JimmyChanga
or as I like to call it: "Henry, His Wife, Her Lover, and God", this is a book that starts off feeling very film noir-ish, but ends up being a pretty good (though at times contrived and theoretical) look at religion. It delves into a lot of the same themes as O'Connor's "Wise Blood" (although in a
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much less zany way), and would make a good "double-feature" with that book.
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LibraryThing member hazelk
Although rather depressing the writing is good and that enabled me to finish this novel. In the extracts from Sarah's diary I thought that Greene occasionally forgot himself in that his authorial voice and style took over from Sarah's and thus made Sarah more intellectual in her self-analysis than
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I thought her capable of.

I found the character of Parkis likeable and rather Dickensian in the way he was depicted.

I shall certainly read more of Greene's work.
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LibraryThing member gwendolyndawson
Greene's prose is so insightful and yet easy to read. He packs so many worthwhile ideas into his concise prose (e.g., without desire, there is no jealousy). This novel captures the angst of an affair while also capturing the complexities of the characters involved and of the relationships among all
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three members of the love triangle (two male friends and the object of their shared desire). Truly masterful. Not a perfect 10 because I think the ending lags a bit, but almost a perfect 10.
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LibraryThing member kevinyezbick
Marcel Bendrix first met Sarah Miles while interviewing her husband Henry for the purposes of researching a civil servant character in his forthcoming novel. A dinner interview between the two leads to intimate indiscretions and an affair is soon born. It is some seven years later when a chance
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encounter in the street leads Bendrix back into the Miles' daily lives after a two year hiatus.

Henry has grown suspicious of his wife's frequent disappearances, and is considering hiring a private investigator. Ultimately he backs out, but Bendrix, obsessed enough by the affair that ended so abruptly just three years prior, takes on the investigator himself. When the sleuth Parkis presents Sarah's journal, Bendrix is forced to reconcile his machinations for the inevitable end with Sarah's own writings.

"The End of the Affair" is a novel that ultimately treads along questions of faith: in others as well as in God. Set in World War II England and suffused with jealousy, obsession, love and hate, the affair will grip you until its end.
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LibraryThing member kenkuhlken
A very strange book. The structure is complicated by shifts in time, the world view is awfully grim, and the point of view characters are introspective almost to a fault. But not quite to a fault. Greene wrote this one balancing on the edge of melodrama, and succeeded in writing a masterpiece. I
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can’t think of any work of literature that more clearly exposes the conflicts that haunt the human mind and heart.
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LibraryThing member abbeyhar
What a weird book. Very dark. I didn't expect the extremely religious turn, and wasn't sure what to make of it. I think that if smythe hadn't been cured,I would have just found it eerie, but it ended up ending on a slight preachy note instead. A good book about love and obsession and grief and
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where they can take us. I would like to read more by him, and to find out how much of this was fiction and how much was autobiographical. This review sucks
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LibraryThing member krizia_lazaro
This book is an almost favorite. I don't know why I like sad novels but that's the main reason I love this, it just seems real. I also love the way Graham Greene connected love and hate and humans and God. A must read classic!
LibraryThing member Matke
Greene's writing is brilliant, as usual. The main character is odious. As the plot unfolds, the book becomes something of a polemic for R.C. values. Nevertheless, it repays the reader with a great experience.
LibraryThing member MaryEvelynLS
Love and lust. Love and loss. Love and jealousy. Great short book.
LibraryThing member lakesidemusing
Thank you, Colin Firth.

Your voice added depth and meaning to a piece of literature which previously left me feeling profoundly indifferent. It's been ten years since I read The End of the Affair by Graham Greene. My reaction at the time was one of total apathy - no connection, no sympathy, not so
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much as a trace of like or dislike toward any of the characters. Greene's prose elicited a similarly flat response.

However, listening to you read Greene's work was a very moving, albeit depressing, experience. So depressing, in fact, it took weeks to finish a short six and a half hour audiobook. (I put it aside several times to read something cheerier.) How did that feeling elude me in print?

Several weeks have passed, and I continue to think about an audiobook that left no lasting impression in print. As various passages come to mind, I marvel the sheer beauty of Greene's writing. I still don't care much for the story, but I can appreciate what Greene accomplished and will now consider reading more of his work.

This production is a testament to audiobooks and the power of the spoken word.

My rating: 4.5/5 stars
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LibraryThing member AdonisGuilfoyle
Victim of subliminal advertising that I am, when this book was summarised and discussed on Faulks on Fiction, replete with clips from the film adaptation with Julianne Moore, I was intrigued. However, I think the premise sounds better than the actual story. Or maybe I'm just too shallow to
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appreciate all the existentialist waffle that takes over midway through the novel.

Author and professional misery guts Maurice Bendrix decides to write about his ill-fated union with a married woman, Sarah Miles, and starts his story 'at the end of the affair', two years later. Sarah describes herself as 'a bitch and a fake' who defines her life by sleeping around and drinking. She is married to Henry, a mild-mannered civil servant who she claims to love but isn't enough for her. When Bendrix - he is mostly known by his last name - decides to write about a civil servant, he picks on Miles for a character study, and questions Sarah about her husband. The two then start a mad passionate fling, which eventually turns into a destructive kind of love for both, until their love nest is hit by a V1 bomb during the Blitz. Sarah promises a God she doesn't believe in that she will leave Bendrix and go home to Miles if her lover miraculously survives the blast - and Bendrix lives, so Sarah walks away. That's the best part of the story over. After that, Bendrix, Sarah and even random secondary characters like crazy Richard Smythe, Sarah's spiritual consultant, spend most of the time talking or writing about what they do or don't believe in, regretting what they did or didn't do, and hoping to die.

There are some creative, thoughtful passages in this short novel, as well as a few sympathetic characters (narrator Bendrix, who makes me think of a depressed Archie Goodwin, is not one of them, but private detective Parkis and his trainee son are literary gems), but overall I didn't enjoy the weighty combination of angst and philosophy. One or the other, clearly labelled, would have been better.
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LibraryThing member kaulsu
Wonderfully read by Colin Firth.

I was interested in reading a second [Graham Greene] novel after finishing both [Seeds of Fiction: Graham Green's Advetures in Haiti and Central America] by [Bernard Diederick] and then [The Comedians] by Greene. After listening to both The Comedians and [The End of
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The Affair], I think I shall actually read (as opposed to listening) [Our Man in Havana].

I am sure one of the other 65+ reviewers have given a synopsis of the book. I will simply say That the book kept my interest for the most part. The ending was believable, though a bit unexpected. Every question wasn't answered, which I like. More to ruminate over. It was a bit dated (mid to late 1940s), as far as relationships went, yet at the same time there was something timeless about them.
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LibraryThing member pgchuis
I'm quitting this half way through (it seems to be my year of quitting books). Maurice and Sarah have an affair, and claim to love each other, although they don't act as though they do. Then Sarah breaks it off


because she thought Maurice had been killed in an air raid and made a bargain
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with God, in whom she does not believe, that if Maurice were spared she would give him up. Maurice was not in fact killed in the air raid. She does not explain her reasoning to Maurice, who is very bitter.

Two years later Maurice tells Henry, Sarah's husband, about the affair and sets a private detective to see who Sarah is now seeing. (She is serially unfaithful to Henry, with whom she has never had a sexual relationship.)

I didn't like any of the characters AT ALL ( except for maybe Henry) and their actions made no sense.
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LibraryThing member bookcrazed
The End of the Affair begins with a seemingly simple plot structured around the age-old moral questions posed by adultery and unwise love. The title itself prepares the reader for the affair, its ultimate end, and even somewhat for the emotions and events that circumscribe the affair. The narrative
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evolves, through a series of unexpected events, into a vehicle for questions about God and love and truth.

Greene tells his story through first-person narrator, Maurice Bendrix, a young writer obsessed with beautiful Sarah. Sarah is married to Henry, a civil servant with ambitions to climb the civil-service ladder and achieve a certain social status in the process. The limitations of a first-person viewpoint are defeated by introducing Sarah’s personal journal, the breakthrough that reveals to Bendrix—and the reader—Sarah’s motivation and gut-wrenching inner struggle.

The core conflict is exposed during one of the novel’s frequent flashbacks. During a crisis, Sarah does what many of us do: she makes a promise to God . . . if only. In Sarah’s case the if only is, if only He will save the life of her lover. And as the crisis passes and her greatest wish is granted, Sarah is not so keen on keeping her side of the bargain. Abraham Lincoln said that if you make a bad promise, don’t keep it—or something like that. And that’s the sort of response most of us have as our crisis ebbs and the emotion that triggered our hasty promise passes out of memory. Sarah, however, is not so fickle as the rest of us (and being British, doesn't have Abraham Lincoln to fall back on). For her, the only way out is to negate the contract by believing that God doesn’t exist. Maurice, too, is in a struggle with this God whom he adamantly but unconvincingly insists does not exist. Each is seeking a door to freedom that will open only if they succeed in denying His existence.

As is usually the case with classic reprints, the edition I read included an Introduction by a noted literary critic—in this case, author and university lecturer Michael Gorra. As has become my habit, I saved reading the Introduction for last—after I’d completed my read, when I would be equipped to agree and disagree and engage in a conversation-in-my-head.

In his Introduction, Gorra reveals that the mystical elements introduced as the story concludes were viewed as literary weaknesses by Greene himself in a later discussion of his work. The End of the Affair was highly autobiographical of ongoing events at the time of its writing. Apparently it would have been a quite different story had Greene written it with twenty-year hindsight. It’s power and value, though, are largely due to its immediacy. It is the story of a young man in the throes of Grand Passion, not the faded reflective vision of the older man looking back on his life.

This is a book for writers, lovers, those fleeing from the Hound of Heaven, even those chasing God. It ends in a resolution that is infrequently found in real life, which I will forego describing for the benefit of those few who have neither read the book nor any of the many commentaries on its plot. William Golding commented, “Graham Greene . . . will be read and remembered as the ultimate twentieth-century chronicler of consciousness and anxiety.” I’m not well-read enough to know if ultimate is an appropriate word choice, but I do agree that in The End of the Affair Greene has done a whopping good job of examining the angst and soul-searching so common to love gone wrong . . . with the added dimension of the common practice of questioning the existence of God when reality becomes too painfully real.
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